Charting Harassment’s Uncharted Waters

The spate of sexual harassment claims has companies nervously reviewing their policies, and some executives wracking their brains
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The spate of sexual harassment claims has companies nervously reviewing their policies, and some executives wracking their brains for any potential flashpoints in their own past conduct, as a turning point has clearly been reached in the treatment of women in the workplace.

“Don’t touch and don’t compliment,” was how one veteran communications attorney put it of this new territory.

“No industry [is unaffected],” Melissa Raphan, chair of the labor and employment group at law firm Dorsey & Whitney, said. “Without a doubt, the floodgates have been opened and there is no end in sight. Like it or not, the bar has been raised and what might have gone under the radar screen is going to come into the light.”

Raphan offered the following advice for companies going forward:

● “Employers will see an uptick in concerns being raised (and need to staff up to meet the need), especially since we are entering ‘holiday party’ season (already a time of interactions fraught with issues).”
● “Employers should come out with a statement, which, at a minimum, reaffirms the company’s commitment and highlights a robust reporting process (which encourages people to come forward).”
● “Employers need to provide parameters to respond to men who are throwing up their arms and saying, ‘I don’t know what I can say’ and ‘I don’t know what I can do.’ The internal message should be tailored, particularly for those who are not used to hearing ‘no.’ ”
● “The Golden Rule still applies — treat others as you want to be treated. Employees need to conduct themselves as if their conduct were being recorded.”
● “Training needs to be hard-hitting.”
● “The time for excuses is over.”

The spate of sexual harassment claims has companies nervously reviewing their policies, and some executives wracking their brains for any potential flashpoints in their own past conduct, as a turning point has clearly been reached in the treatment of women in the workplace.

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